He was quite certain he’d botch it up but good, but at least he could say he’d tried.

He groaned. She was probably going to ask him about his feelings. Was there no woman alive who understood that men did not talk about feelings? Hell, half of them didn’t even have feelings.

Or maybe he could take the easy way out and simply apologize. He wasn’t certain what he’d be apologizing for, but it would appease her and make her happy, and that was all that mattered.

He didn’t want Eloise to be unhappy. He didn’t want her to regret her marriage, even for one moment. He wanted his marriage back to the way he’d thought it was—easy and comfortable by day, fiery and passionate by night.

He trudged up the hill back to Romney Hall, rehearsing what he’d say in his mind and scowling over how asinine it all sounded.

But his efforts were moot, anyway, because when he arrived at the house and found Gunning, all the butler had to say was, “She’s not here.”

“What do you mean, she’s not here?” Phillip demanded.

“She’s not here, sir. She went to her brother’s house.”

Phillip’s stomach clenched. “Which brother?”

“I believe the one who lives close by.”

“You believe?”


“I’m rather certain,” Gunning corrected.

“Did she say when she planned to return?”

“No, sir.”

Phillip swore viciously under his breath. Surely Eloise hadn’t left him. She wasn’t the sort to bail out on a sinking ship, at least not without making sure every last passenger had left safely before her.

“She did not bring a bag, sir,” Gunning said.

Oh, now, that made him feel good. His butler felt the need to reassure him that he’d not been abandoned by his wife. “That will be all, Gunning,” Phillip said through gritted teeth.

“Very good, sir,” Gunning said. He inclined his head, as he always did when he excused himself, and left the room.

Phillip stood in the hall for several minutes, stock-still, his hands fisted angrily at his sides. What the devil was he supposed to do now? He wasn’t about to go running after Eloise. If she so desperately wanted to be out of his company, then by God that’s what he would give her.

He started to walk to his office, where he could stew and fume in private, but then, when he was just a few steps away from the door, he stopped, glancing at the large grandfather clock at the end of the hall. It was a bit past three, just about the time the twins usually took their afternoon snack. Before they’d married, Eloise had accused him of not taking enough interest in their welfare.

He planted his hands on his hips, his foot pivoting slightly, as if unsure which way to turn. He might as well go up to the nursery and spend a few unexpected minutes with his children. It wasn’t as if he had anything better to do with his time, stuck here waiting for his errant wife to return. And when she did get back—well, she wouldn’t have anything to complain about, not after he’d twisted himself into one of those tiny chairs and eaten milk and biscuits with the twins.

With a decisive turn, he headed up the stairs to the nursery, located on the top floor of Romney Hall, tucked neatly away under the eaves. It was the same set of rooms in which he’d grown up, with the same furniture and toys, and presumably the same crack in the ceiling over the small beds, the one that looked like a duck.

Phillip frowned as he stepped off the final stair onto the third-floor hallway. He probably ought to see if that crack was still there, and if it was, inquire what his children thought it looked like. George, his brother, had always sworn it resembled a pig, but Phillip had never understood how he’d mistaken the bill for a snout.

Phillip shook his head. Good heavens, how anyone could mistake a duck for a pig, he’d never know. Even the—

He stopped short, just two doors down from the nursery. He’d heard something, and he wasn’t quite certain what it was, except that he didn’t like it. It was . . .

He listened again.

It was a whimper.

His first inclination was to storm forward and burst through the nursery door, but he held himself back when he realized that the door was ajar by two inches, and so he crept forward instead, peeking through the crack as unobtrusively as he could.

It required only half a second to realize what was happening.

Oliver was curled up in a ball on the floor, shaking with silent sobs, and Amanda was standing in front of a wall, bracing herself with her tiny little hands, whimpering as her nurse beat her across the back with a large, heavy book.

Phillip slammed through the door with a force that nearly took it off its hinges. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he nearly roared.

Nurse Edwards turned around in surprise, but before she could open her mouth to speak, Phillip snatched the book away and hurled it behind him against the wall.

“Sir Phillip!” Nurse Edwards cried out in shock.

“How dare you strike these children,” he said, his voice shaking with fury. “And with a book.”

“I was told—”

“And you did it where no one would see.” He felt himself growing hot, agitated, itching to lash out. “How many children have you beaten, making sure to leave the bruises where no one would see?”

“They spoke disrespectfully,” Nurse Edwards said stiffly. “They had to be punished.”

Phillip stepped forward, close enough so that the nurse was forced to retreat. “I want you out of my house,” he said.

“You told me to discipline the children as I see fit,” Nurse Edwards protested.

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